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10,000 Maniacs with Leigh Nash – Ardmore Music Hall – Ardmore (A Concert Review

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

10,000 Maniacs with Leigh Nash – Ardmore Music Hall – Ardmore, PA – November 12, 2023

10,000 Maniacs was briefly – during the mid-late 1980s and early 1990s – one of the biggest bands in the alt-rock world. Formed in Johnstown, New York in the early 80s and fronted by singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant, with keyboardist Dennis Drew, bassist Steve Gustafson, drummer Jerry Augustyniak and guitarist Robert Buck, they broke out with their 1986 album In My Tribe, which spawned three minor hits – “Like the Weather,” “What’s the Matter Here” and a cover of Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train,” but eventually sold over 2,000,000 copies.

In 1989 their follow-up Blind Man’s Zoo opened up their recognition even more, becoming a platinum record (1,000,000 units sold) and they just missed the top 40 with their single “Trouble Me.” Their 1992 album Our Time In Eden also became a hit, spawning the minor hits “These Are Days” and “Candy Everybody Wants.” However, they had their first top 10 single with a live cover of Patti Smith’s “Because the Night,” which was recorded for MTV Unplugged, back in the days where nearly every band released an Unplugged album.

Right at the height of their fame, Merchant decided to leave the band to go solo, a sporadically successful venture which led to a couple of big hit albums and has continued to this day. The band’s label Elektra decided to stick with Merchant and drop the rest of the band. Therefore, in regrouping, the Maniacs brought on board John Lombardo (who had been an early member of the group but left the album before they broke out) and his musical partner Mary Ramsay, who had a folk band called John and Mary which had opened for the Maniacs. (Both had performed as part of the Maniacs at the MTV Unplugged session.)

Over the years since, the band had a series of lineup changes – the most important one coming when guitarist and songwriter Robert Buck died way too young of liver disease at age 42 in 2000 – but basically the band continued on with a base of Drew, Gustafson, Augustyniak and Lombardo. Ramsay ended up having a much longer run with 10,000 Maniacs than Merchant ever did – recording four albums (10 if you count EPs and live albums), and even having a fluke top 40 hit with a cover of Roxy Music’s “More Than This” on her first album with the band, and touring with the band for nearly 30 years before leaving the group last year.

Without a singer for the first time in decades – I don’t know if they reached out to Merchant, but she is still working on her solo career and has shown little interest in looking backwards over the years – the band had an interesting thought. Over the years they had toured periodically with the group Sixpence None the Richer – which was big in the late 90s and early 00s and had hits with “Kiss Me,” “Breath My Name” and covers of the La’s “There She Goes” and Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” The members of 10,000 Maniacs became friends with the band, particularly singer Leigh Nash and lead guitarist and songwriter Matt Slocum. Why not bring them onboard, and the tour can be a mixture of both groups’ hits? (The group’s official bio promoting this tour is a bit vague as to whether Nash and Slocum have joined 10,000 Maniacs full time or if this is just a one-tour thing…)

It turns out to be a pretty good fit. Nash’s vocals are similar enough to Merchant and Ramsay’s so as to not be distracting, and yet different enough to add a bit of interest and excitement to songs that have been around for decades.

This gig was the second of two shows on the tour in the Philadelphia area. The night before the new Maniacs played at the more traditional Colonial Theater in nearby Phoenixville, about a half-hour drive away. The Ardmore Music Hall is more of a large club, standing-room-only atmosphere.

The band opened with a slightly more obscure tune, “City of Angels,” but after that there was a run of hits that lasted most of the first set. (The show was broken into two nine-song sets plus a three-song encore.) “Trouble Me” started things off with a sweet hopefulness before the set took a slightly darker turn... at least lyrically. “What’s the Matter Here?” and “Like the Weather” (undoubtedly two of the most upbeat and catchy songs ever written about the serious subjects of child abuse and manic depression) from In My Tribe still feel new, immediate and wonderful all these years after their release.

The covers also started to pop up soon afterwards, with gorgeous takes on “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “More Than This” going down smoothly. Back to the originals, the political treatise “You Happy Puppet” still stings in its immediacy – in fact it’s perhaps even more trenchant today than it was when originally recorded. The first set finished off on the gorgeously somber “Stockton Gala Days.”

The mix of the groups was even more evident in the second act, when 10,000 Maniacs’ desperate “Don’t Talk” was followed up by Sixpence’s wonderfully catchy “Breath My Name.” (That song should have been a much bigger hit than it became.) Of course, each of the bands’ biggest hits were represented: from 10,000 Maniacs’ propulsive cover of Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen’s biting romantic discourse “Because the Night” to the sweetly naïve and lovesick catchiness of Sixpence’s near-perfect hit single “Kiss Me.”

That romanticism was also touched on in a couple of favorite In My Tribe album tracks, the sweetly charming marriage song “My Sister Rose” and the beat-generation mythologizing of “Hey Jack Kerouac,” which led into the encore. The group sent the night out with the perfect power pop of The La’s “There She Goes” and then closed things out with an uplifting version of “These Are Days.”

Turns out that the merging of two separate popular bands from two different eras worked out pretty well in this case. I’m looking forward to seeing if this collaboration goes further.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: November 14, 2023.

Photos by Jim Rinaldi © 2023. All rights reserved.


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